09/13/09 1:14 AM ET
Ichiro just two hits from making history
Mariners star doubles, homers in victory over Rangers
By Jim Street / MLB.com
The Mariners right fielder hit a double in the first inning and home run in the third in Saturday night's 8-3 win over the Rangers to close in on yet another 200-hit season.
With two more hits, Ichiro would become the first player in MLB history to have nine straight 200-hit campaigns. He currently shares the record with Hall of Fame outfielder Willie Keeler, whose streak ended in 1901, exactly 100 years before Ichiro started his streak.
Ichiro also struck out in the fourth inning, flied out in the sixth -- with runners on first and second and nobody out -- was walked intentionally in the seventh with runners on second and third and grounded out in the ninth.
Next up for Ichiro, who also holds the record for most hits in a season with 262 in 2004, is expected to be Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, the projected starter for the first game of Sunday's scheduled doubleheader, followed by left-hander Derek Holland in the second game.
Ichiro is 2-for-6 in his career against Hunter and 1-for-8 against Holland.
The first-inning hit off Rangers starter Kevin Millwood on Saturday night was just the second for Ichiro since last Sunday, when he moved within five of the 200-hit mark. He had gone 1-for-17 since the Mariners' series finale against the Athletics in Oakland.
"We talked about Ichiro feeling some anxiety," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said, "but he came out and didn't look like it tonight. I think it was important for him to get that first hit.
"Getting that hit right out of the chute down the line set the tempo right away. [Ken Griffey Jr.] came up and drove him in right away and gave us a one-run lead. When he does what he normally does, it sets the tone for us."
Ichiro, who took a .400 (26-for-65) career batting average to the plate with him in his first at-bat against Millwood, was denied a chance on Friday night to move closer to the record as the opener of a three-game series was rained out.
The achievement appears to be much more important in Japan than anywhere else.
The number of media from Ichiro's homeland has increased the past week, but that is not the case with American media. No additional media passes for U.S.-based journalists were issued for this series.
There is no comparison in the national media coverage between Ichiro's pursuit of a 108-year-old record compared to the amount of publicity generated when Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter caught and went ahead of Lou Gehrig and into first place on that franchise's all-time hit list.
So why is there such a huge difference?
"I think there are a lot of reasons," Wakamatsu said. "The markets [between New York and Seattle] are different, [the Yankees] are the hottest team in baseball, has the longest history of championships in the game, the media market is much bigger and being a foreign player makes it less sexy."
Considering the stress that seemed to be building during the past week, it probably did Ichiro some good to get an unplanned respite from the pursuit of the record.
Afterward, Ichiro sent word through his interpreter that he would not be conducting interviews, apparently with media from Japan and the U.S., until he gets his 200th hit of the season.
"He had that series in Anaheim and I know he cares a lot about the fans and what he gives back," Wakamatsu said. "Coming in here, that was deep on his mind. He wanted to make an impact, and he did."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.